A leaked document “blows apart” the Transport Secretary’s claims that extending HS2’s timetable will save money, said shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh.
Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh told MPs she had seen a Government document which contradicts Mark Harper’s claims that delaying the project will reduce costs.
The Transport Secretary last week announced that HS2’s timetable would be revised as a cost-saving measure, with the Birmingham to Crewe leg delayed by two years.
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Plans to extend the line to London’s Euston station and to Manchester also face delays, with Mr Harper “prioritising” the initial services between Old Oak Common in west London’s suburbs and Birmingham Curzon Street.
In the Commons, Ms Haigh said: “We now know why the Secretary of State was so desperate to dodge scrutiny, because I have a leaked document written by his most senior officials which blows apart the Secretary of State’s claims and lays bare the consequences of the decisions he has hidden from.
“His chief justification for the delays to HS2 were to balance the nation’s books, but here his own department admit what he will not, that the delays itself will increase costs.
“They admit it will cost jobs, that construction firms could go bust. They cannot rule out slashing high speed trains serving Stoke, Macclesfield and Stafford altogether.
“They suggest it could terminate on the outskirts of London until 2041. Isn’t it time the minister came clean? This absurd plan will hit jobs, hurt growth, and cost taxpayers even more.
“Even the Government has lost faith in this Government, and little wonder. Is there anything more emblematic of this failed Government than their flagship levelling up project that neither makes it to the North or to central London?”
Transport minister Huw Merriman responded: “Obviously we do not comment on leaked documents, certainly not documents that I have not been given at all.
“I am very proud of what we are doing when it comes to delivering HS2. The construction of Curzon Street station in Birmingham, which remains as I have stated, is expected to create 36,000 new jobs.
“In Manchester, to her point about not levelling up across the country, the redevelopment of Piccadilly station is expected to create 13,000 new homes.
“In London the regeneration of Old Oak Common will contribute around £15 billion over the next 30 years. Those are figures to be proud of and we will deliver them.”
Elsewhere, the minister faced calls to reveal whether there would be further delays to the project from the Conservative chairman of the Commons transport committee, Iain Stewart.
Mr Stewart asked: “Can we be assured this is the last delay to the project?”
Mr Merriman replied: “Whilst the pandemic and Putin’s illegal invasion… were not anticipated, we do expect these HS2 plans to be the plans that deliver it from London to Manchester.”
Tory backbenchers were also critical of the delay, with Conservative MP Jack Brereton (Stoke-on-Trent South) claiming the scheme would mean a “huge amount of pain for little to no gain” for his constituents.
He added: “I’m extremely concerned – and many of the people I’ve heard from are extremely concerned – that phase 2 particularly is actually going to reduce capacity of some of those existing services.”
Tory former minister Alec Shelbrooke cast doubt on the future of northward extensions to HS2, including Leeds, telling the Commons: “Mrs Miggins in the Dog and Duck knows it’s not going to happen.”
He also raised the plight of his Elmet and Rothwell constituents caught up in the scheme, explaining: “There is constituents of mine who have been suffering for a decade with the preserved land, which has been kept aside, it’s ruined them being able to sell their houses, going through the compensation schemes.”
Calls to scrap HS2 were made from both sides of the Commons, with Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Green (Chesham and Amersham) saying: “Why not admit this was a mistake and just scrap HS2 altogether?”
Mr Merriman joked he would “take that as Liberal Democrat policy”, before Conservative colleague Greg Smith (Buckingham) then said: “Instead of tinkering with the edges of HS2, would it not be better to admit that we cannot afford it as a country, that it has ruined livelihoods up and down where construction has already commenced, and brings massive environmental destruction with it.
“Would it not be better to scrap it altogether?”
A budget of £55.7 billion for the whole of HS2 was set in 2015.
But the target cost excluding the eastern leg of Phase 2b from the West Midlands to the East Midlands has ballooned to between £53 billion and £71 billion (in 2019 prices).